Fat and Happy?

What to know about raising a healthy-weight child.

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Although obesity rates among U.S. children have doubled in the past 20 years, most parents don't think twice about a little baby fat. But new research says they should. A Harvard University study found that babies who weighed the most at 6 months old were 40 percent more likely to be overweight or obese at age 3 than those who weighed the least. Researchers believe that multiple factors, including the parents' weight, genetics and a lack of activity, play a role in determining a child's weight. According to pediatrician Philip Nader, M.D., author of 2008's You Can Lose Your Baby Fat: New Rules to Protect Kids from Obesity, providing a healthy environment will tip the scales in your baby's favor. Here's what he suggests:

Count yourself as part of the equation: Before your baby turns 3, your own current weight is a stronger predictor of obesity than his birth weight. Parents who eat right and exercise are more likely to raise children who do the same. Encourage movement: Activity is important for development. Your baby can get all the exercise he needs by learning to lift his head, roll over, bat at toys, sit up and crawl. Be sure to provide plenty of opportunity and safe space for movement. Breast is best: Research shows that babies who nurse for six months or longer are less likely to be obese than those who are fed formula. "Since human breast milk is so perfectly designed, there isn't as much risk for gaining excess weight," says Nader. Plus, it's harder to overfeed a breastfed baby.

Red Flags

Parents should look for the following risk factors for obesity, says child obesity expert Philip Nader, M.D.

Rapid weight gain: At every visit, your baby's doctor will measure her length and weight. These measurements should follow a predictable curve. If there's a spike in your baby's weight, discuss this with the doctor.

Too much TV: According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, multiple studies show that watching television increases the risk for obesity and doesn't offer any educational value for children younger than 2.

Overfeeding: Don't grab a bottle or lift your shirt every time your baby makes a peep. If he turns his head or pushes the breast or bottle away, take the hint.